There’s very little chance you can make a bad cup of tea. Whether you leave it to steep for 30 seconds or 30 minutes, you’ll still technically produce tea. That said, there are optimum tea steeping conditions that can yield the best-tasting tea.
All teas (except herbal teas) come from the same plant, Camellia sinensis. However, the different ways they’re processed lead to the tea variations—and consequentially, different steeping times and temperatures.
Green Tea & White Tea
After harvesting, green tea and white tea are dried by steaming, baking, or pan-firing almost immediately to prevent oxidization. That said, green tea is allowed some time under the sun, and also take another step of rolling after the drying process.
Green tea has several varietals like gunpowder green tea and matcha. Generally, though, green tea is vegetal and herbaceous and yields a shade of green liquid.
White tea is floral and fruity, with a sweet undertone; however, most of its flavor is very mild.
Green tea and white tea are best steeped for two to three minutes at 170-200F (76-95C). If you leave them too long, they’ll taste more bitter and the flavors will be less balanced.
Oolong tea is a semi-oxidized tea variety. Its leaves are harvested, withered, rolled, oxidized (longer than green tea and white tea, but shorter than black tea), then dried. To help with the oxidation, the leaves are bruised so the enzymes are more exposed to the air.
Oolong teas are floral in flavor, with slight herby and malty undertones. They have a medium body and finish smoothly on the palate. Oolong tea can steep in hotter water and for a longer time than green tea and white tea, the extra time allowing for more flavor to develop.
Black Tea & Herbal Tea
Black tea follows the same process as oolong tea, however, it is left to oxidize way longer (about eight hours). During this time, the leaves turn from green to brown, which leads to the same dark brown color of your tea after steeping.
There are several black tea varietals like Assam, Darjeeling, and even Earl Gray. Generally, though, black tea is full-bodied and bold and yields a malty, earthy flavor.
Herbal teas are not “true” teas because they do not come from the same tea plant. Instead, they’re made using roots, stems, or buds of different plants. The flavor differs depending on that; ginger tea is strong and vegetal, while chamomile is light and floral, for example.
Herbal infusions are herbal teas mixed with green, white, oolong, or black tea leaves. Still, they’re called teas because they are prepared the same way, by steeping or brewing.
Steep black and herbal teas at 200-212F (93-100C) for five minutes for the best results.